structural strain

Innovation or Retreatism: What should students in environmental studies be learning? (part 3)

In case readers have missed parts 1 and 2 of this series, here’s the summary: In Innovation or Retreatism: What should students in environmental studies be learning? (part 1), I introduced Robert K. Merton’s structural strain theory of deviance as a possible way of thinking about how those of us in the field of environmental studies, especially those who teach a political economy perspective, should be talking about individual and societal responses to environmental crisis. The basic idea is that Merton’s structural strain theory might be creatively employed by considering some sort of sustainable society our goal with individual behavior change and policy reform serving as the two dominant approaches to achieving the goal.  (more…)

Innovation or Retreatism: What should students in environmental studies be learning? (part 2)

In Innovation or Retreatism: What should students in environmental studies be learning? (part 1), I introduced Robert K. Merton’s structural strain theory of deviance as a possible way of thinking about how those of us in the field of environmental studies, especially those who teach a political economy perspective, should be talking about individual and societal responses to environmental crisis. The basic idea is that Merton’s structural strain theory might be creatively employed by considering some sort of sustainable society our goal with individual behavior change and policy reform serving as the two dominant approaches to achieving the goal. (more…)

Innovation or Retreatism: What should students in environmental studies be learning? (part 1)

Back in July I wrote a piece called Shorter Showers or Pipeline Protests? The Personal Paradox in Teaching Environmental Studies. I was reminded of this post recently during a class discussion when a student expressed frustration with the fact that all of her environmental studies courses critique capitalism yet fail to offer alternatives. More frustrating, my student added, is the failure of her environmental studies professors to acknowledge the fact that she and her peers will graduate and have no choice but to find a way to make a living–and perhaps more importantly, find a way to make life meaningful–within a capitalist system that they’ve been taught to view as the source of the problem.

In Shorter Showers or Pipeline Protests? I explained how a political economy perspective focuses on embedded power relationships, and how this this perspective points to structure over agency as the cause of, and therefore also the solution to, environmental problems. My main point in that post was to argue that an emphasis on structural relations, which can seem impenetrable and even untouchable from the perspective of an individual, does our students a disservice unless we also provide answers to the question of how such powerful structures can be changed. (more…)